South Lakes Zschunke
James Zschunke is one of five starters returning for South Lakes, a strong state title contender this season.

Concorde District Boys Preview: Beware the Lakes

2022-2023 Concorde Regular Season Champion: South Lakes
2022-2023 Concorde District Tournament Champion: South Lakes
2023-2024 Presumptive Favorite: South Lakes

What’s New In 2023-2024: Impact transfers Merrick Rillstone (New Zealand) and David Rochester (O’Connell) arrive at South Lakes; Westfield adds Centreville transfers Will Robinson and Mathias Lee, plus Paul VI’s Jemon Price

These are good times for the South Lakes Seahawks. Always a playoff threat, the Seahawks really broke through last year, advancing to the state semis before falling to eventual state champion Hayfield. Just about everybody returns for Coach Mike Desmond, to include the Seahawks starting five: Jordan Scott, Aiden Billings, Brian Kennedy, Sol Vita, and James Zschunke. Now, with the additions of transfers from across Northern Virginia (David Rochester) and across the world (Merrick Rillstone), the Seahawks are thinking state title. Even Grant Hill never did that at South Lakes.

Still, Desmond is hardly anointing his squad the team to beat.

“There’s not one favorite for the state title,” he says. “We’re one of them, but a team like Patriot has the ingredients and certainly has the right to be called a state favorite.”

While the state tourney might be a different matter, it would probably be a surprise if the Seahawks lost a game in the region, let alone the Concorde District. It starts with Scott, a 6’5″ or 6’6″ guard garnering major DI interest. Desmond gives Scott major credit for still working hard and remaining a team player despite his individual success. He’s a deadly weapon on offense who can hit from well beyond the arc, score in the lane, and still lock down other players on defense and grab rebound after rebound.

Like Scott, Rochester is another very tall Division I prospect who can shoot and put the ball on the floor. With Billings’ considerable physical strength sealing lanes and opponents off the defensive glass, both Rochester and Scott figure to get a number of put-backs off misses. Kennedy, the reigning Concorde Defensive Player of the Year, also brings a considerable amount of physical strength to the table. His backcourt running mate, Vita, is a crafty scorer who attacks the rim with efficiency.

Jordan Scott is a major Division I prospect who could propel the Seahawks to a state title this season.

With Zschunke, Tyler Andre, Toshiki Elston, and Jordan Corry on hand, Desmond has no lack of lineup options. Rillstone is a tall guard who can play multiple positions and attack the rim off the dribble. He’s just another option on a team flush with talent, shooting, height, and defense.

The Seahawks will likely not have six of their final roster, to include Billings and Kennedy, until football season concludes. Even without those guys, they’ll be a very tough out. With them come March, nobody may be able to take them out.

Coach Kevin Harris has won a state title (at Centreville). The Westfield Bulldogs have won a state title (under Doug Ewell). So, we figure it’s only a matter of time before this combo at least challenges for a state title. It’s just a question of when.

Probably not this year, but the prognosis is very good for Harris’ new program. Despite losing solid seniors like Kashantis Anderson and Jaden Haile, the Bulldogs are flush with young talent. It starts with Isaiah Brown, Jr., an All-NOVA Freshman selection a year ago. Brown, a six-foot-plus guard, has star potential. With a pretty picture-perfect jump shot, he’s already shown the ability to carry his team with his scoring, and Harris says Brown likely will be his most consistent scorer this year.

There’s much more than Brown, Jr. in Westfield’s sophomore class, especially after three transfers. Will Robinson, another All-NOVA Freshman last year, comes over from Centreville. He’s a tall forward who can force opposing bigs to the perimeter with his three-point shooting ability, opening up the lane for his teammates. Mathias Lee also comes over from Centreville–the solid young guard was in the Wildcats’ youthful rotation last year as well.

The third sophomore import is Jemon Price, who played on Paul VI’s JV last year. He’s a point guard with considerable potential who can distribute and catch fire on offense. Also on hand in that heralded Class of 2026 is Tyler Dahm, a guard whose role figures to grow as the season goes on.

That’s a young nucleus, but also returning from last year’s team is Tyler’s older brother Logan, a senior guard and plus-defender. Back also is Brayden Norris, a key 6’7″ junior that will anchor the middle for the Bulldogs. Harris likes the ingredients he has and downplays his team’s relative youth.

“Last year we had older guys, but not a lot of varsity experience,” he says. “This year we’re young, but we actually have a considerable amount of varsity experience. The key will be everybody to buy into their roles and defend as a team.”

Really, really happy to have some returning varsity experience this season is Chantilly Chargers Head Coach Rodney Carmichael. Chantilly hasn’t had much success in recent years, but started strong last season with some nice non-district wins, even surprisingly hanging fairly well with WCAC power Bishop McNamara. Then, after some injuries and inexperience reared its head in some close district losses, Chantilly again finished last in the Concorde.

Carmichael tells us this season might be different.

“This is the first season I’ve been here where I have a returning group that can really refer back to the previous season and build off a foundation.”

Chantilly’s Ivan So is one of the most underrated guards in Northern Virginia.

He’s certainly got a pretty nice nucleus to demonstrate that foundation. Start with senior Ivan So, the point guard that makes Chantilly go. When he’s healthy he’s a relentless offensive weapon, a player that can constantly put pressure on an opposing defense. He’s one of the most underrated players in Northern Virginia and can impact a game on defense and even on the boards on occasion.

Other starters return. Senior shooting guard Amare Elshoush is back and Carmichael says the 8-10 pounds of muscle he added this offseason will help his game. 6’4″ senior Tyler Swindell also returns, who Carmichael calls his “swiss-army knife.” The versatile Swindell can defend most positions and is getting Division III next level interest.

Junior Jordan Davenport gained a lot of valuable experience last season, with the forward even playing some point guard when So was out. Three other seniors are back in Hersey Samala, Mason Dougherty, and Ved Desai. Desai is especially key, as when he’s healthy he can provide a lot of muscle inside.

The question for the Chargers may again be depth. More players have to continue to step up especially if there are injuries. Prime candidates to do that could be JV players from last season like Patrick O’Rourke and Ved’s younger brother, sophomore Vivaan Desai.

The Chargers have looked good in the offseason, and there’s some sleeper potential to make their season good as well.

The Madison Warhawks‘ title hopes in 2023-2024 took a hit when post player Wyatt Norton transferred to O’Connell, and wing Miles Franklin transferred to St. Andrews (MD). Both were legitimate Division I prospects. Usually when a team loses five starters, let alone two of those caliber, the prognosis is not good.

But this is Madison, where lots and lots of kids play sports, and play them well. Experienced coach Kevin Roller’s cupboard is hardly bare, and the Warhawks certainly foreshadowed that by winning the NOVA Cavs Summer League this offseason. There are question marks to be sure, but underestimate the Warhawks at your own peril.

“We’ll have a really good year,” Roller says. “We have some good kids who do things the right way.”

One of those kids is Steven Cruz, a point guard who hit a number of clutch shots last year and was the Summer League’s MVP this offseason. Roller says Cruz is “at the front of the line” of kids that need to step up and provide consistent offense. Also returning from last year’s varsity are guards Hobbes Fiel, a junior with shooting prowess, and Sumah Frueh, who started some games last year in no small part because of his ability to defend. Both must expand their roles this year for the Warhawks to have success, but both are capable.

Madison always seems to get more-than-adequate production out of its backcourt. The question is in the frontcourt, but that should be fine once Madison’s talented football players get to the basketball team. F-C. Darren Knicely is a fantastic athlete who also plays WR/TE–he’ll be more than capable of doing all the dirty work inside on the hardwood. Noah Baker is also playing football–he’s a forward who can stretch a defense with his outside shooting prowess.

One guy Roller thinks that will make an impact is junior big Ryan Furlong. He’s had a good offseason and will get to play major minutes right away with Knicely and Baker still likely playing football into December.

Depth is an open question, and Roller isn’t quite sure what his final team will look like, both in November and in February. But he likes his guys and basic ingredients of all facets of the game are there, which means the Warhawks will be well worth keeping an eye on.

One of the best players in the Concorde plays for the Oakton Cougars, and that’s three-sport athlete Noah Toole. Toole will lead the Cougars this year as Oakton tries to improve on its tied-for-fourth place finish in the Concorde last season.

“He’s a great athlete and a [three-sport] rarity in today’s age,” said Cougars Coach David Brooks of Toole, a Radford baseball commit. “He’ll lead us on the break and in the open court.”

The senior Toole is a shooting guard that opposing defenses will focus on. He’ll still get his points, but if Oakton is to be a factor in the Concorde race, others have to step up. A solid senior class has graduated, including three starters last year. In addition, playmaking guard Kendall Jones has departed, transferring to Flint Hill.

There are lots of candidates to step up, however, especially in the frontcourt. Senior Brendan Rossi returns after suffering a torn ACL last season. Brooks says he’s all the way back from the injury and will bring a solid presence down low, especially defensively. Owen Martin, a senior forward who will provide leadership, returns from last year’s roster, as does power forward John Park. The Cougars should be able to match up with most teams up front with that crew.

Brooks is high on another returner, senior Amare Hamid, to help Toole provide offense.

“He earned minutes for us as the season wore on last year,” Brooks says. “He’s a shooter, but he can score in a variety of ways.”

If Hamid is ready to increase his role as a legitimate weapon, the Cougars figure to be a tough out. Brooks says he has more athleticism this year, as well.  The question is at point guard. Toole can certainly help bringing the ball up the court, but minutes at the one figure to come from players that were on the JV last year and are unproven. How much those kids step up is a key to Oakton’s season.

Speaking of kids, one of the youngest teams around last year were the Centreville Wildcats. This year, more of the same, but there’s a lot more varsity experience, which should allow the Wildcats to take a step forward.

Jeremiah Clagett is one of Centreville’s young players that give the Wildcats optimism for this year and beyond.

Losing Robinson and Lee, plus guard Jordan Smith to transfer hurts, but the guy who sparked the Wildcats last year, junior guard Jaxson Davis, is back.

“He has worked hard in the offseason,” says Centreville coach Andrew Hypnar of Davis, an All-NOVA Sophomore last year. “He’s got great handle…he’s one of the craftiest finishers I’ve ever had. We want the ball in his hands, quite frequently.”

Davis heads a very solid Centreville junior class that also includes talented guard Jeremiah Clagett and sharpshooter Luke Scharkowski. That class also has returning varsity point guard Clark Kim, plus Jack Siwert and Nick Hardy, JV standouts last year. Siwert adds more perimeter shooting, while Hardy is a 6’5″ big man that has to step up and hold his own against the bigger teams in Northern Virginia.

If Hardy can do that and be a force on the boards, it’ll give Centreville’s young guards, plus returning seniors Mohammed Kraishi and Xavier Andrades, more ability to create havoc and get on the break. There’s more young talent on hand as well, like Unity Reed transfer Kobe Clement, and freshmen Maddox Davis (Jaxson’s brother) and Soren Kyne.

But, with youth comes more inconsistency, and the Cats were wildly inconsistent last season. Hypnar hopes an improved defense will help cure that.

“We have to defend way better this year,” he told us. “Last year our offense had to be good to have a chance because our defense was bad.”

–Chris Jollay

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